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Amalfi coast adventure: Family therapist Shelley Behr discovers Steinbeck’s ‘dream place’

Here the sculptures are both man-made and natural, and beauty catches your eye in every direction.

A poet once said, “For the people of Amalfi who will go to heaven, [it] will be a day like any other.” And a poet would surely know, for the beauty of nature in this place and the grandeur of ancient traditions in the colorful towns exude the grace, form and cadence of a lyrical poem.

Overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Salerno, the Amalfi Coast stretches for 50 kilometers along the eastern edge of Italy. It has been said that no other place on Earth offers such a concentration of culture, tradition and rough-hewn scenery. Here the sculptures are both man-made and natural, and beauty catches your eye in every direction.

Rising from the azure tides below are bronze beaches, lemon tree terraces, imposing cliffs and an array of charming villages, each with its own unique story to tell and experience.

For Shelley Behr, a family therapist from the Vancouver area in British Columbia, the kaleidoscope of sights and sensations was a soothing therapy in its own right. During a normal week, Behr works as a therapist helping individuals, couples and families cope with trauma, divorce, relationship issues and addiction. Here, as she viewed the dramatic cliffs from her tour boat and walked ancient cobbled streets, she was surrounded by calm, comfort and peace.

Her itinerary took her through Sorento, Positano, Amalfi and Rufello. Beyond, Naples, Ischia, Procida, the island of Capri and Pompeii beckon, and she has vowed to come back again soon. Pompeii, frozen in time, will patiently await her return, but the truth is that time moves slowly all along the coast, through villages that have hardly changed for centuries.

The coast’s terrain is striking and forbidding, which has long given it space to create its own special food, art and culture, across the generations. Even today, the rugged landscape means that most visitors arrive via water transportation.

There is a 40-kilometer road which connects Vietri sul Mare and Positano. Known as the Amalfi Drive, it’s ready for every intrepid visitor in a rented Alfa-Romeo who wants to test his or her nerve on its harrowing twists and turns.

Author John Steinbeck captured the essence of this motoring experience when he wrote: “Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing.” Like so many before him, Steinbeck found something life-changing along the road. For him, it was the village of Positano. 

Daniel Bellino is yet another writer who was quickly enchanted by this special place: “When you finally arrive in Positano you will be greeted by colorfully white and pastel painted buildings that are filled with vibrant Purple Bougainvillea plants pouring generously over their walls. … Though the entire coastline is absolutely gorgeous, Positano is arguably the most alluring gem of them all. The romance of this pretty little town makes for a jewel of vacation and one you shall always cherish. It’s most assured you will never forget time spent in Positano.”

There is certainly something dreamlike about the Amalfi Coast. Somewhere amidst the limoncello, wines and long, lingering dinners, you will begin to believe your every move is being captured by the magical lens of an Italian cinematographer. Images, moments and conversations pass by slowly, blurring, fading and intensifying as you move through the pages of your own unique storyboard.

Is it everything it seems to be? John Steinbeck had an opinion on that, too. Reflecting on his time in Positano, he remembered: “It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there, and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” 

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